A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Food Rules!- The Federal Meal Program


We have six class periods, and we spend an average of eight hours at school, five days a week. The average person eats about three meals a day, and it’s the school’s job to not only educate us but to also provide us with food. Throughout the years, there have been decades of old lunch programs that provided nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day to ensure that no student will go hungry. This meal program started only ten years ago at Greenway, but has there been much improvement since then?

School nutrition actually has improved a lot over the years; for instance, fresh fruits and veggies are made more available to us instead of unneeded sugar and calories, which encourages students to make healthier food choices. This meal program also strictly prohibits all students from selling fatty or sugary foods on campus during the school day. Students caught selling these types of items will lose their selling privileges. Concession stands for fundraisers or clubs are an exception, they are given lists of what they are allowed to sell. Selling at football games are also an exception.

“What’s on the menu?” The members of the school’s food service are required to follow recipes that meet federal standards based on the latest nutritional guidelines; the school is told what foods they can and cannot serve the students based on nutrition guidelines. This also involved the vending machines.

There are exactly seven vending machines in the entire school, and they all contain the following:

CHIPS- Doritos, Lays, Ruffles, Cheetos & Cheez-Its

SWEETS- Chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispies Treats, fruit snacks, cereal bars, granola bars & Pop Tarts

BEVERAGES- Brisk, Diet Mountain Dew, Lipton Tea, Water, Kickstart & Sobe Life Water

Most of these might not sound like the healthiest choices for students during school, right? Well, you’d probably be right because, for the most part, these are still considered unhealthy, but I believe the portion size is why this is considered not that unhealthy. Still, I’d lay off the bag of chips everyday and instead, have one every now and then. As for the beverages and the Diet Mountain Dew vending machine, both regular and diet sodas have their pros and cons, but they both contain zero nutrition, so I’d say soda in general is bad for you.

Energy drinks are also an issue; the amount of energy drinks students purchase from the vending machines is quite concerning. I’ve noticed that energy drinks are very popular here at Greenway, and the teachers seem to agree. Teachers have witnessed students buying two energy drinks at once. Is that much caffeine for students really necessary? I, too, feel drained of any energy in the morning but in my opinion, you don’t need to be loaded on caffeine in order to remain awake and motivated during the day. Try going for a walk and drinking water, and be sure to get plenty of sleep because your sleeping cycle is also a crucial part of your health.  

Obesity rates in the U.S. are skyrocketing, including the rates in children and adolescents, and it’s important to never forget what we put into our bodies because while it may seem harmless for now, making poor choices regarding your diet can have long-term effects such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. What causes obesity in children and adolescents? It can be one of many things such as genetics, a slower metabolism and an inability to burn as much fat. Fast food is another primary contributor to obesity because eating a fast food meal can contain an entire day’s worth of calories. Large portions and a lack of exercise, along with our advanced technology, means that we have spent maybe a little too much time on our phones and indoors instead of outside being active.

I interviewed Mr. Feldman and Ms. Peterson separately for some insight on this particular subject and their thoughts on these matters.

Here’s what they had to say.

Ms Peterson said, “I don’t think children are pleased with the meal programs; kids will be kids.” 

Ms. Peterson said, “French fries are my favorite vegetable, but I too have changed my eating habits for the better and I influence my son to do the same. “

She said, “I would advise the students to make good food choices when possible; we all have our cheat days and that’s okay. I recommend eating a salad and some fruit and eat junk food only every now and then. Try not to drink any sugar-loaded drinks either.”  

I also interviewed some students, who have asked to be anonymous. 

One student said,  “I think the meal program is pointless because these ‘healthy choices’ aren’t healthy choices at all and just because something healthy is there doesn’t mean anyone’s going to make any advances for the time being. “

Another student said, “In my opinion, teenagers today don’t care about much nor do they have much priorities other than their phones and social media like Snapchat or Facebook, so things like eating healthy or going to the gym seem impossible.”

“I think some of us can’t help it, we all have schedules that we get caught up in and just never have the time,” said another student.

“Well, I agree and disagree because yes, eating healthy and taking care of yourself [is something] I am all for and I think that the school trying to at least encourage kids to eat healthier is great, but just because healthy choices are available won’t make students care,” said Autumn Wilson.

As for my final thoughts on this topic, I think some of us aren’t educated enough on diets and maybe for some of us, we are aware but choose to live carefree, which is okay. We are young (FUN reference, huh?) and should enjoy life and all of it’s delicious, sugary, and greasy foods it has to offer, but within reason. I notice during lunch in the cafeteria that the salad line is very short most of the time and usually the pizza or burrito line is much longer and don’t get me wrong when I say I’m just as guilty because my usual is a spicy chicken, but I know a number of students who eat pizza everyday for lunch at school. I recommend to at least have some fruit with your breakfast or lunch and go for some water instead of all that caffeine, it’s seriously killing your liver. As for the meal program, I’d say that it’s a great thing for schools to try to encourage better nutrition and it does have some benefiting aspects, but I will also say that I agree with some of the interviewed students’ points. Just because healthy options have been made more available, it doesn’t make much of a difference when the students aren’t doing much with it and remain careless. So, is the meal program effective? Is it necessary? I’ll leave that for you to decide because in the end, the choice is yours.